Photo credit: surrealpenguin
I'm desperate, I don't know what to do!"
A good friend messaged me on Skype during work hours, something I usually ignore. This time I had to give in, because I knew his pain. Google updates have been killing me.
I wasn't sure what help I could offer my friend, but I thought I could at least lend a sympathetic ear. I didn't expect much from the conversation, but it turned into a two hour strategy session that I know will lead to more profits than anything else I could have done that afternoon.
My friend promotes affiliate offers in the travel niche, selling tickets of flights. Most of his sites got knocked out of the SERPs with the Google Panda update last year, but his main site coasted through, remaining profitable and keeping his business afloat. The site has a beautiful design and superb content, so Panda was no problem, but over the past few months, it has disappeared from the results for nearly all of his keywords.
His site delivers value to visitors, and he was careful to avoid egregious link building techniques, but still, he got hit by Penguin. "Google's not fair!" he messaged me. "Sorry," I responded, "that's life". That harsh confrontation with the facts got us thinking creatively about the major challenge of SEO: the game is always changing. With the reality of constant change in mind, we spent two hours coming up with the beginnings of an SEO survival guide. I'm not ready to share everything, but here's five guidelines that will keep your career alive.
1. Stay mentally tough
The shock of having a top earning site knocked out of the SERPs can ruin you, if you're not ready for it. If you want to survive in SEO, you need to be constantly vigilant against fear and doubt. The minute you start thinking about failure, you're on the way down. The only true winners in Internet marketing are those with the psychological preparation to persevere and succeed when everything and everyone is telling them to give up.
2. Diversify your traffic and make it count
Despite the frustration webmasters endure, Google can be a marketer's best friend. We wouldn't work so hard to stay in Google's favor if it weren't tremendously profitable. It's important to remember, though, that there's still plenty of other sources of traffic. If the only source of organic traffic you can think of is Google, you need invest more heavily in learning your niche. Maybe you have to work hard at alternative traffic sources to get only a fraction of the visitors sent by Google, but on the inevitable days when the Google traffic dries up, those alternative traffic sources could be the difference between going home and staying in the game.
More importantly, you need to make your traffic count. You fight to get each visitor, so you should do everything you can to keep them. If you're not collecting emails and building a list, you're doing it wrong. A targeted, responsive email list is the cornerstone to lasting profits in internet marketing. Don't be satisfied with anonymous traffic, learn to communicate with an audience of your own. These are the customers and potential customers that will continue adding zeros to your bank account, no matter what Google does.
3. Always be testing
Lazy SEOs might see profits from time to time, but they'll never truly understand what techniques actually work. If you want to stay on top, it's not enough to blindly follow the advice of others. Comb through backlink profiles and brainstorm original ideas, and constantly create new sites to test out your hypotheses. A haphazard approach to testing may lead you to a working technique once in awhile, but pros routinely conduct well-structured experiments to identify the tactics that will give them an edge. Developing this discipline will put your finger on the pulse of the search results. Start this practice now, and the next time you see major changes in rankings, you'll know what's going on before everyone else finds out second-hand.
4. Always be saving
Solid economic decisions are as important as technical decisions when it comes to SEO. There are three primary reasons to be smart with your SEO budget. First, having savings to fall back on can help prevent the panic and psychological stress mentioned earlier. Second, having reserves in your budget gives you the ability to adapt quickly. For instance, if you find yourself suddenly in need of top tier content, you can get your sites back up and running much faster if you have the funds to hire great writers. Third, without sufficient savings to cover your operating costs, you may find yourself forced to pursue other ways of making money and unable to stay focused on SEO. Search engine optimization is challenging enough when you pour yourself into it full-time. Trying to improve your rankings with a part-time effort is a situation to avoid at all costs.
5. Quality counts
I'm pragmatic. I'll be the first to admit that spun content, automated link building, and the like have their place in the SEO toolbox. If you understand what you're doing, go ahead and make judicious use of these tools. However, the highest rewards come from focusing on quality content and quality links. Google's goal is to deliver the sites that make their users happy. Build sites with your user in mind. Create content they will love, and want to share. Insist on usable designs. Do everything in your power to connect with your users and help them. View visitors to your site as people, not dollar signs. Take care of your users, and Google will take care of you.
To obtain quality links, there is one method that algorithms will never penalize: guest blogging. Guests posts on relevant blogs are indistinguishable from the naturally occurring links that Google loves. It takes more effort, but if you're serious, you will always be looking out for guest blogging opportunities.
Follow these five guidelines and you'll be in a good position to adapt, no matter how Google tweaks their algorithm. Don't expect Google to be fair, the only thing you can expect is change, and it's your responsibility to be ready for it.
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Manish Pandey is an SEO Expert from India who likes to share his views on the latest happenings in the field of search on his blog. He works for MakeMyTrip as an Assistant Manager in SEO. Get in touch with him via twitter.com/mpind